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MOVIE 1:   7 minutes 39 seconds
What's Hard About a Topic?

In MOVIE 1, Harvard's David Perkins and MIT's Jeanne Bamberger raise a powerful question that may help focus your attention when you design and plan a lesson or unit of instruction: What's hard about the specific topic you're about to teach? What key difficulties will students encounter when solving a design challenge, or doing an investigation, or learning an idea? The Cognitive/Learning Sciences suggest that teaching or instruction that ignores students' preconceptions or "misconceptions" often ends up not changing them. Many such ideas get described in Novice/Expert Studies related to all STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) topics.

Three of Perkin's categories for how ideas can be hard to learn to keep in mind when planning your own lessons include:

  • Things that are counterintuitive.
  • Things that are complicated.
  • Things that are plain weird.

Asking what's hard for students about the topic could be your own Teaching Research Question of the Year. Try putting this issue in the forefront of selected lessons that you plan for 1-2 semesters. Start to collect ways that students express their prior knowledge. See what things your find that your students need to focus on when they try to understand some of the tougher concepts in the course you teach (controlling variables, Newton's Second Law of Motion).

Article for Teachers

The Many Faces of Constructivism (4 pages) is an article by David Perkins that describes some key features of effective constructivist teaching and some of the challenges of using this teaching approach.

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